Gordon (George Segal) is a harassed lawyer who has to take care of his senile mother (Ruth Gordon) to the extent that he has no life of his own. When interviewing nurses to come and help with his mother's care, he meets Louise (Trish Van Devere), a pretty, sweet-natured divorcee. It's love at first sight, but Gordon's shot at happiness is doomed to failure...
This bizarre, anti-everything black comedy was scripted by Robert Klane from his novel, and became known as a classic of bad taste. Certainly, the film tests your embarrassment levels throughout: what's more uncomfortable, listening to Louise's reasons for divorcing her husband after thirty six hours of marriage, or listening to Segal sing her a love song at some length straight after?
Initially, we suppose Gordon's mother is the root of all his troubles. He can't put her in a home, because of the promise he made to his late father, so when we first see him he's dressing up in a gorilla suit to try and scare her to death; her response is to punch him in the bollocks. Yet as we see more of his life, it becomes clear that the world he inhabits would drive any reasonable person to distraction.
While there is a theme on the frustration of having your family get in the way of your progress in life, Where's Poppa? is more about setting up those bad taste jokes. A scene where Gordon's would-be romantic dinner with Louise is disrupted when his mother yanks down his trousers and starts biting his arse is hilarious, but not long after Gordon's brother is forced into raping a passerby by a gang of thugs, which many viewers could find offensive (and that's without mentioning the punchline!).
Excellent performances all round take away from the, at times, excruciating pace of some sequences - it's as if they're pushing your tolerance to the limit. Segal manages to look more tired than you'd have thought possible, and the indomitable Ruth Gordon remains funny as she thwarts her son's plans at every turn. There are two versions of this film, one with an addtional joke at the end to make you cringe. Music by Jack Elliott.
American actor, writer and director, a comedy specialist. He got his break writing for Sid Caesar's television show in the 1950s, then created the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s. He moved into film with the autobiographical Enter Laughing, followed by the more serious The Comic and the controversial Where's Poppa?
In the 1970s he scored a hit with Oh God!, and then directed a string of fine quality Steve Martin vehicles: The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and All of Me. He continued to direct into the nineties, and had a good role in the Ocean's Eleven remake. Father of Rob Reiner.